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Debt-Bonded Brick Kiln Workers and Their Intent to Return: Towards a Labour Geography of Smallholder Farming Persistence in Cambodia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Nithya Natarajan, Laurie Parsons, Katherine Brickell

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1581-1599
Number of pages19
Issue number5
Early online date19 Aug 2019
Accepted/In press24 Jun 2019
E-pub ahead of print19 Aug 2019
Published1 Nov 2019


King's Authors


Despite the increasing preponderance of non-farm work in Cambodia, labour migrants across a range of working conditions remain linked to their rural homesteads through durable financial and social arrangements. This article explores this phenomenon through the case of debt-bonded brick kiln workers in Phnom Penh, formerly smallholder farmers in villages. Drawing on the field of labour geography, the article first examines the process by which labourers became debt-bonded, thus situating them within the country’s broader agrarian transition and recasting peasants as rural labour. It then explores workers’ perceptions of rural life, suggesting that the unfreedom of kiln work, contrasted with the fixedness and potential for mobility in rural life, makes workers aspire to return to their land. The article ultimately highlights how the persistence of smallholder farmers can be understood as an issue of poor work under neoliberalism in Cambodia, and draws light on the agency of labour in understanding this.

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